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12 Hours in Hong Kong

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I had 12 hours in Hong Kong, arriving just after noon and leaving at 1:00am on November 8th.  I made my way to Tsuen Wan from the airport, then went for a walk along the Kowloon waterfront with Rehman and Kin-yi.  I had an obligatory stop at the Golden Computer Centre to poke around, then enjoyed a delicious home-cooked dinner in Tai Po with the Kwok clan.  It was a full and enjoyable day, and a great way to complete the trip.  Here are a few of my images from the day.

The Star Ferry pier in Kowloon with Hong Kong Island in the distance

A Star Ferry with Central in the distance

Daring to fish in Hong Kong Harbour

An alley in Sham Shui Po

A Sham Shui Po street scene

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Written by sockeyed

November 8, 2010 at 00:55

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Vientiane After Two Years

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I arrived in Vientiane at around 11am this morning on the standard Lao Airlines ATR-72. The flight from Bangkok took not much more than an hour, and I kind of enjoy flying in propeller planes – the buzz of the turbo-props, and the sense that they won’t completely plummet straight to the ground in the event of total engine failure. The flight was uneventful unless you consider getting a tuna bun an event, and I finished the very enjoyable To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

Lao Airlines ATR-72

 

There isn’t a lot on the agenda for today other than getting settled (although I will be having dinner with Rob Gray, a friend of almost 30 years and the Country Director for Population Services International Laos, who I will be shooting for over then next few days). This is my third year working with PSI; last year I documented their malaria program in the far southeast part of Laos and their injecting drug user program in Bangkok, and the year before that I worked with them here in Vientiane as well as in Cambodia and Bangkok.

They have booked me into a very comfortable new hotel – the Sabaidee Lao Hotel – in the centre of town, complete with a large bed, air con and a modern bathroom. After dropping my stuff off I picked up a SIM card for my mobile, then went for a long walk around town, revisiting a lot of familiar places from my time here two years ago (and a quick visit the year before). My sense is that it has changed a bit for the worse, but that could be my imagination or slight romanticizing of what it was like before. To me it seems there is more traffic, there are more tourists (including farang with local girls), and more tourist/backpacker-oriented stores. I suppose that these things happen, especially with Southeast Asia being such a popular destination and many places probably feeling overrun. I’ll have to ask Rob for his impression.

My wandering took me down to the riverfront which has definitely changed. An entirely new waterfront area (including flood prevention) is under construction and all of the shanty-like riverfront bars are gone, which is unfortunate. The strip is also recovering from the weekend riverboat festival which left a lot of garbage and semi-deconstructed stalls in its wake.

The New Mekong Riverfront in Vientiane

 

The New Mekong Riverfront in Vientiane

 

I changed some money (7,000 Kip to the dollar) and had a great cheese and veggie baguette sandwich with cafe lao and a mango pineapple smoothie at the Manivanh Shop on Samsenthai Road (19,000 Kip). Near the end of my walk I enjoyed my first Beer Lao, but I noticed with disdain that there are now other beers available. The Beer Lao monopoly was a fine thing given that it is an excellent beer.

Baguette Sandwich and Cafe Lao at Manivanh Shop

The Original Beer Lao

Getting here was largely uneventful. I arrived in Hong Kong on the night of the 23rd and was met at the airport by Kin-yi, Rehman and Jeremy Lai. We rode the bus to Kin-yi’s place in Tsuen Wan (her apartment always signals to me that a trip is beginning or ending) where we enjoyed very tasty curries that Rehman cooked up. We all slumbered at Kin-yi’s place, with Rehman issuing great snores from the living room floor.

After a fair sleep I woke early and Rehman walked me back to the bus in time to catch the 6:20 departure. Flying to Bangkok was fine, but the best part was riding the new train in from the airport. While not thrilling in and of itself, it was great not to sit in gridlock for an hour trying to get to the hotel.

I booked a room at Jim’s Lodge on Ruam Rudee off of Sukhumvit. It’s in a very convenient location not far from the BTS (skytrain), and the rooms are spacious, clean and bright; something the rooms in my previous go-to place, The Atlanta, were not. The price, at 1,200 Baht ($36) a night including breakfast works for me.

I didn’t get up to a lot in Bangkok in the half-day that I had. I did enjoy possibly the best Thai massage I’ve had just down the road from the hotel at Khun Tiew’s, a place recommended by my friend Nathan (there was a photo of him on the wall along with many other happy customers). I had a 2 hour massage full of eucalyptus, hot stones, intense pressure and some vigorous twisting.

Khun Tiew in front of her place

Bangkok's Most Wanted

Afterwards I was peckish so I went to a nearby cafe she recommended and had some very rich tom yum gai which was flavourful but not quite as spicy as I wanted. I was hoping to get out and find some of the primo local places Jeremy Tan suggested I visit, but I was a bit zonked and unadventurous. I hope to make it out during my next visit.

I was in bed by 8pm. Not impressive for a night in Bangkok, I know, but I wanted sleep. Sadly I didn’t get much. I tossed and turned until 5am when I got up, packed and checked out. I was at the airport well before my flight, but that was a good thing as it was pretty mobbed.

Written by sockeyed

October 25, 2010 at 03:01

Hong Kong and Home

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My stay in Bangkok was pleasant and not particularly memorable.  I stayed in the clean and comfortable Gold Silver Garden Guest House a short distance from the airport for a very reasonable $27/night.  They picked me up at the airport and delivered me again early the next morning.

It was unusual to be flying into Hong Kong in the middle of the day rather than the evening.  There was so much to see: rugged green peaks, massive highrise developments in the New Territories, and busy waterways.  I made my way quickly through the always-efficient airport and rode the A31 bus into Tsuen Wan (again interesting in the daytime).  I popped into Kin-yi’s apartment to drop off my stuff and shower, then headed into Sham Shui Po – the computer mecca – in Kowloon to look at getting my laptop repaired.  I found an entire mall of tiny repair shops one block over from the Golden Computer Centre and spotted a guy with a couple of Acer laptops, so I figured he could help out.  He quickly confirmed that my hard drive was kaput, so I walked over to the Centre and bought a new 320GB hard drive for $500 HK (about $80) and brought it back to him.  I left it with him for the night.

Dad arrived on the A31 with Ah Man and Jeremy Lai around 8:30.  I met him at the bus loop and we walked back to Kin-yi’s for him to drop his things off and clean up, then we went for a late dinner in the Discovery Park mall.  Returning home I did a bit of email on his computer, then hit the sack and slept very soundly until 6:30am.

At around 9:30 we went into the centre of Tsuen Wan and hopped a minibus up the mountain to Chun Lung, Kau Fu, Kau Mo and Ah Kei’s family village nestled in a forest preserve.  We ate a delicious dim sum lunch in their family restaurant, joined by them, Ah Man and Jeremy.

We spent much of the afternoon in Kowloon, first picking up my computer (a mere $200 [$30] for service), then visiting Rehman in his tailor shop in East Tsim Sha Tsui.  By the late afternoon we’d returned to Kin-yi’s where dad had a short nap, then we took the bus and train over to Tai Po for the traditional home-cooked feast with the entire Kwok clan.  Dishes included steamed shrimp, fresh chicken, watercress, mushrooms and duck feet, and wonderful stuffed fish.  Ah Kong kindly drove me all the way to the airport in his new Toyota Picnic, a kind of practical mini-minivan.  We dropped dad off at the apartment when we stopped to get my luggage.  And now here I am, waiting to board my flight back home.  It’s hard to imagine that I will soon by in our own bed after all the different beds in all the different places I’ve been too in the last four weeks.

Written by sockeyed

November 7, 2009 at 09:11

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An Auspicious Start

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This year’s trip began on an auspicious note – I was seated next to a Buddhist monk during my flight to Hong Kong. I must say that he had interesting taste in entertainment on the in-flight system: he watched Angels & Demons and quite a few Bollywood epics. The deities must have noted his presence as the flight was very smooth and we arrived about ½ an hour ahead of schedule. I had my usual Indian vegetarian meals on the flight (glad I picked vegetarian due to His Monkness to my left), and while good, I’m still trying to decide if it’s the best choice for in-flight eating. Perhaps bland and mild might be better. I watched four films on the in-flight system, two of which were very good: Moon and The Hurt Locker. Highly recommended to all. I didn’t sleep; didn’t feel the urge (until the very end), and was trying to stay awake to ensure a solid sleep in Hong Kong.

Everything upon arrival was exactly as expected with the exception of the army of airport staff wearing surgical masks in light of swine flu. It’s an un-nerving welcome to a place. Maybe they could paint smiley mouths on them or something?

The baggage arrived reasonably quickly and I stopped at the 7-11 to top up my Octopus transit card and buy a Pocari Sweat. Leaving the airport I was hit by a wall of chewy air – 25 degrees and 100% humidity, with a light drizzle. The A31 bus was waiting, and before long I was rolling into town. Again, all was familiar.

Kin-yi and Rehman were waiting at the end of the line – Discovery Park. Rehman looked incredibly dapper in tailored shirt and pants, and Kin-yi seemed to be wearing pajamas and had wet hair. It was great to see them – they are always so welcoming and warm. Rehman peeled off to head home, and Kin-yi and I walked to her place at Summit Towers. I wasn’t up for much when I arrived, so I showered and had a drink, then flopped onto the guest bed at around 9pm. I actually managed to sleep through most of the night, getting up at 6am. I sorted through a few things and texted with Kristi (who is hiking around the Skaha Bluffs!), and sat down to email and write this.

I’ll be meeting more of the Kwoks this morning for dim sum: Big Kau Fu, Kau Mo, Ah-Man, Ga Lam and her mom, and maybe a few others. Baht Baht and Ah Leung are up in their ancestral village in China for ancestor worship and maintenance, I believe.

Time to wake up Kin-yi. Ai-ya, it will be a sight to behold. Getting up is a very painful process for her.

Written by sockeyed

October 11, 2009 at 17:06

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Lost Wallets, Eating and Eating

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A lousy start to the day: Kristi realized that she’d lost her wallet the night before, probably on the mini bus (as she’d used it to get on). It likely just fell out of her bag, or she missed the pocket when trying to put it away. In the wallet was ID, credit card, bank card and cash. A phone call or two and everyone was looking for it. Calls were made to the mini bus company, and we walked to the police station to file a report. Later in the day, we even rode the same bus with the same driver and asked him about it. No luck.

Nonetheless, we still made the best of what was left of the day. Just before noon we took the number 80 mini bus up the mountain to Chun Lung, Kei’s village. Not long after we arrived, his parents showed up and we had a great meal in their restaurant in the village. It was mostly dim sum, but also sai yeung choi, or watercress, grown right there in Chun Lung. Communication wasn’t easy as my Cantonese is terrible, but we still enjoyed ourselves. Uncle (Kau Fu – Kei’s father) even drove us to the top of Dai Mo Shan, the peak above the village, for a great view down. It was a nice opportunity for Kristi to see that part of Hong Kong. As expected, she really liked the quiet rural character of the village.

Kau Fu drove us back down into town on his way to pick up his granddaughter Ga Lam from school. We took the MTR into Tsim Sha Tsui for a quick walk around Kowloon Park, then we met Ah Wah at her office and she introduced us to her work for the local government promoting local horticulture – garden and vegetable-growing projects.

With some time to kill before dinner, Kristi and I wandered through Mong Kok at dusk. I had be hoping to show her that level of urban pedestrian life – seas of people on streets closed to traffic. We wandered through the ticky-tacky wares for sale in the Ladies Market while we were in the area.

We joined the rush-hour throngs on the KCR train and rolled to Tai Po, hopped a taxi and were at Baht-Baht and Ah-Leung’s for an absolutely delicious home-cooked dinner preceded by a series of goofy Wii computer games with Wah’s kids, Jun Jun and King King. Of course they trounced us soundly although I was particularly good at one dynamite-related game. The meal was fantastic. Dishes included greens cooked with fermented fish, piles of mushrooms, savoury egg custard, steamed garoupa fish, green beans and mountains of fresh shrimp. Of course, Baht Baht poured me a glass of brandy at the end of the meal. Wah’s husband Ah Gong arrived at the end and drove us home to Tsuen Wan. Jun Jun came along for the ride as he loves cars.

Written by sockeyed

October 29, 2008 at 01:00

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Pokey Trams and Hakka Nosh

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We slept pretty well although I didn’t manage to figure out the air conditioning so it was a bit sticky. We were out of bed and showering before 8:00, and made our way to the Discovery Park mall for breakfast at Delifrance, which also seems to be a tradition for my trips to Hong Kong. Eggs, sausage, baguette, cappuccino and orange juice got me going for the day.

Near the mall we jumped on the 234X bus which isn’t the fast way to Tsim Sha Tsui, but does offer the most stuff to see. Kristi was again stunned by the scale of development here, had tons of questions about how people use public open space and what they do there, and made some comparisons to her time in Cuba. At the end of the line, we walked to the Star Ferry pier and paid $2.70 (about $0.30 CAD) to ride the lower deck across to Central. The ferries are still well used, mostly by locals although tourists can’t resist the views and charm of the old tubs. The ride seems to be getting shorter every year; I think that it actually is due to reclamation of the harbour.

On Hong Kong side, my first stop was the Canadian Consulate, right in the heart of Central. My problem is that my passport is almost full, and I’m worried that the three one-page visas that I’ll need on this trip might not fit. Then what? There was nothing that they could do for me on short notice, however, so they gave me some post-it notes for me to write “do not stamp – visa only” and put them on my precious blank pages. I may have my parents mail my UK passport to Bangkok though, just to be safe.
We poked around Sheung Wan for a while. We rode the mid-levels escalator up the hill so Kristi could have the experience of a low-flying bird’s-eye view of that part of Hong Kong, walked down again, and poked our heads in the Man Wo temple, which is pretty prototypical for temples in these parts, full of coils of smouldering incense and godly statues.

Next up ride a ride on the tall skinny pokey old trams that roll along the island. Like on our bus ride earlier in the day, we sat upstairs at the very front. Such a great way to see the city. Pulling up next to or behind other trams provided great views of commuters in their natural habit. Down below you can watch pedestrians scurrying across the road between trams, and delivery bikes somehow squeezing next to or between them.

We rode into Wan Chai, bar and expat central. It has been hottish (near 30) and sticky, so we wanted some respite from the heat. We found this in a coffee shop modelled on west coast coffee shops back home. I enjoyed an iced vanilla latte and Kristi sipped an iced mango thingy and dropped a bit from the heat and jetlag.

Just after 1:00 we met her cousin Jodi and boyfriend Pablo, both architects and working in Hong Kong. We haven’t seen Jodi since last Xmas in Penticton. They chose a tasty Chinese vegetarian place on Hennessey Road and we had taro-nest veggies, noodles and fake gluten meat. Like many folks around, they are suffering from a lack of work options because of the struggling global economy. Work is pretty secure for them here, but there are few options in terms of other places to move to. Canada, US and Europe seems to be out of the question for them.

They had to get back to the grindstone right after lunch, so we said our good-byes and strolled through the Wan Chai street market, then jumped on the MTR for the short ride under the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui where we dropped in on Rehman in his shop (Noon Tailors) near Mody Road. It was great to see Rehman, as always. We caught up for a bit and made plans for lunch tomorrow.

Heading back to Tsuen Wan, we stopped at the Golden Shopping Centre, the computer mall crammed with tiny shops selling all things computer-related. I picked up a neoprene laptop case, a memory card reader and a plastic case for my cell phone. I may have spent $20. Kristi got a few bits and bobs too.

Back at Kin-yi’s we put our feet up for a short while before taking the mini bus to Tsuen Wan MTR station where we met Kei. With him we walked the Hong Kong way – through malls, walkways and overpasses – to a Hakka restaurant in the middle of town where we joined Baht Baht and Ah Leung, and were soon joined by Kin-yi, Ah Man, Ah Moon, Jeremy Lai and Ping. Jeremy Lai has grown up amazingly in the last year and now has a low voice and a fuzzy lip. Funny to think back at when Anthony and I came to Hong Kong in 1997 and he was just a baby. The meal was tasty and they made a special effort to order vegetarian things for Kristi. I began to feel a bit dopey, but fortunately the meal wasn’t a long one. A mini bus ride and we were back at Kin-yi’s place and getting into bed.

Written by sockeyed

October 28, 2008 at 01:00

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Leaving Vancouver

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Vancouver was in the throes of fall when we left. I don’t recall a fall with colours quite like this, and such dramatic light, with late-day low-angle sunlight illuminating the trees against dark grey clouds. The sun was cracking through the clouds the afternoon we left. We went for a short walk around the neighbourhood and down to Commercial Drive to get some fresh air between cleaning the house and driving to the airport. The air was lovely and crisp.

Dad came over a bit after noon and drove us out. Actually, I drove at his request. We checked in instantly and wandered the airport, both ground side and air side, to pass time before we left (and to avoid sitting down). The flight on Cathay left at 3:15 or so, and was pretty much uneventful, which is a good thing for a flight to be. I ordered Indian vegetarian food which seemed to be the wise choice against Kristi’s ordinary vegetarian meals. The flight was 14 hours, which is plenty long enough to get a sore butt. I watched some movies, read, listened to music. I discovered that listening to BBC lectures on my iPod (“In Our Time”) was a great way to fall asleep (something about English professors), although Kristi managed to sleep more than I did.

The plane touched down in Hong Kong at around 8:30 and we flew through emigration and before long were on the A31 bus into Tsuen Wan. Even though it was dark, Kristi was already gawking at the scale and density of the buildings here. We hopped off the bus at th end of the line at Discovery Park and walked the few hundred metres to Kin-yi’s apartment. The apartment always feels like a home away from home, and is exciting because it means the start of a new trip into Asia.

Written by sockeyed

October 27, 2008 at 01:00

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